CLASSIC DUETS: THE PEABO BRYSON EDITION

In the history of R&B music, you can make a strong case that Peabo Bryson is the most underrated singer of this genre. Bryson has one of the most powerful and smooth Tenor voices that ever existed. Bryson’s incredible Tenor has been the perfect compliment in the recording of several tremendous duet records with equally outstanding female counterparts. In 1979, Bryson recorded one of the greatest duet albums of all time: “We’re the Best of Friends,” with the late, great Natalie Cole. Then, beginning in 1983, Bryson recorded the first of three iconic duets with three different partners: “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love,” with the legendary Roberta Flack. A decade later, Bryson would record two of the greatest duets and motion picture songs back to back. We will start with his 1983 hit duet with Flack.

Bryson and Flack were no strangers to each other. In 1980, they recorded their own duets album together: “Live & More,” a live concert album that featured several of their own solo hits. Flack previously had several huge duet hits with her close friend and one of the greatest soul voices of all time: Donny Hathaway. With the success of both singers’ in duets, both with each other and others, it wasn’t a shock that their 1983 duets album “Born to Love” would go on to be both a financial and critical success. The highlight of this album would be the aforementioned “Tonight….”

“Tonight, I Celebrate My Love,” written by Gerry Goffin and Michael Masser, is a beautiful ballad that describes a couple’s feelings before they consummate their love. Flack’s soprano voice blends perfectly with Bryson’s tenor to produce a song both tender and seductive, as they go back and forth and together throughout the song: “Tonight there’ll be no distance between us. What I want most to do, is to get close to you. Tonight I celebrate my love for you. And soon this old world will seem brand new. Tonight we will both discover how friends turn into lovers. When I make love to you. Tonight I celebrate my love for you. And that midnight sun is gonna come shining through.” “Tonight….” would peak at number 16 and five respectively on the Billboard Pop and R&B charts. Eight years later, Bryson would record a duet so incredible that it would launch his partner’s career as one of the greatest female pop stars of all time.

Following the success of “Tonight….,” Bryson continued to embark on a very successful solo career. In 1984, he scored a top 10 Billboard Pop and R&B hit, the heartbreak song also co-written by Masser, “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again,” and in 1991 another heartbreak melody, “Can You Stop the Rain?” which went to number one on the Billboard R&B charts. That same year, producers of the Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast” were looking for someone to redo a pop version of the titular track. The original version was a standard sung by legendary actress Angela Lansbury. While Lansbury did a phenomenal job in her version, Disney execs knew that her version would not sell at the popular music level. They reached out to music producer Walter Afanasieff, the same writer and producer of “Can You Stop the Rain.” It was the perfect choice for Bryson to be the lead singer in what would now be a duet, as his past success with both duets and Afanasieff made that decision a no-brainer. Bryson would be teamed with a fledgling French Canadian female singer, Celine Dion. Dion had just learned how to speak English when she received this opportunity of a lifetime.

The musical chemistry that Bryson exhibited with Cole and Flack once again was on display with Dion in “Beauty.” Dion’s Lyric Soprano vocals blended perfectly with Bryson’s smooth and seductive Tenor. The very beginning of the song captures the audience as Dion’s voice sets the stage: “Tale as old as time. True as it can be. Barely even friends. Then somebody bends. Unexpectedly.” Then Bryson chimes in: “Just a little change. Small to say the least. Both a little scared. Neither one prepared.” The song captured the theme of the movie: a beautiful woman and a beast become friends and than fall in love. Bryson and Dion capture that essential theme with their amazing voices, especially when the song reaches its crescendo. “Beauty and the Beast,” would be both a commercial and critical success, going to number nine on the Billboard Pop charts and winning both the Grammy award for Best Pop Performances by a Duo or Group and the Oscar award for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture. The song helped propel Dion’s career, which ultimately resulted in becoming one of the greatest female pop vocalists. Bryson would follow this duet with another iconic Disney theme song the following year.

The third and final iconic ballad featuring Peabo Bryson, “A Whole New World,” was also the theme song of the Disney animated film “Aladdin” once again produced by Afanessieff. This time, Bryson teamed up with one of the great R&B songstress of that era, Regina Belle. This wasn’t the first time Bryson and Belle recorded a motion picture duet. In 1987, the two recorded “Without You” from the movie “Leonard, Part 6.” Unlike “Beauty…,” Bryson sung the lead verse on “A Whole New World,” and set the tone for what would be the biggest song for him, Belle and any Disney movie as it was the only song to go to number one on the Billboard Pop charts for all three: “I can show you the world. Shining, shimmering splendid. Tell me, princess, now when did you last let your heart decide? I can open your eyes. Take you wonder by wonder. Over sideways and under. On a magic carpet ride. A whole new world. A new fantastic point of view. No one to tell us no
Or where to go. Or say we’re only dreaming.” Then when it was Belle’s turn, her verse was just as magical: “Unbelievable sights. Indescribable feeling. Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling. Through an endless diamond sky. A whole new world (Don’t you dare close your eyes). A hundred thousand things to see (Hold your breath, it gets better). I’m like a shooting star. I’ve come so far. I can’t go back to where I used to be.” Finally, the chorus were the two sing together brought everything home.

“A Whole New World” would garner Disney’s second consecutive Oscar award for Best Original Song from a Motion Picture. It also was the second year in a row Bryson and Afanessieff would win a Grammy award, this time for Song of the Year. It would also be Belle’s only Grammy win in her storied career, which is just as underrated as Bryson’s. It would also be the apex of both artists’ career, as neither would ever come close again to such lofty heights commercially. Despite that, both artists’ continue to record and have established themselves as two of the most underrated soul music greats of all time.

GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION PART 5: THE SUPERHERO

As I’ve stated several times over the course of this column, we are living in a new golden age of television. Never before has so many wonderful takes on comic book superheroes, both in motion pictures and television, have occurred at the same time. 2018 has been an incredible year for the Marvel Universe on the big screen with the incredible success of both “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” That being said, it is the Marvel Universe portrayed on Netflix that has captivated me even more.

“Daredevil” was the first Marvel show on Netflix that set the tone for the rest of their shows on the streaming channel. Fifteen years ago, “Daredevil” the movie starring Ben Affleck as blind lawyer Matt Murdock during the day and vigilante at night was, despite doing big numbers at the box office, panned by critics. It wasn’t the casting that killed the movie, as Affleck, Jennifer Garner as Elektra and Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin were more than capable in their roles, but the writing and directing that resulted in just an even more disastrous prequel “Elektra” starring Garner. The Netflix series was a different story.

Charlie Cox as the lead character brought an intensity to the role that Affleck didn’t. Cox was made to play the role, and his scenes with Elodie Yung, the actress portraying his love interest Elektra, captivated the audience with the intensity and desire that both characters have for each other. You want to see these characters happy, but circumstances continue to get in their way, culminating in Elektra’s death. Vincent D’onofrio is devilishly evil as Daredevil’s archenemy Kingpin. Daredevil also was the introduction to another great Marvel franchise on Netflix: “The Punisher.”

Jon Bernthal was born to play The Punisher/aka Frank Castle. With his rugged looks and piercing eyes, Bernthal was the perfect actor to portray a man who’s grief stricken after seeing his entire family murdered in front of him. In the second season of “Daredevil,” Castle murdered the entire crime family he thought was responsible for their death and then faked his own death. Castle reappears in “The Punisher” as a construction worker under an assumed name. He is still mourning over the loss of his family when he discovers that it was the United States military that killed his family as a way to silence him because of an illegal mission he was involved in Afghanistan.

Castle teams up with a National Security Agency analyst who is also believed to be dead, David Lieberman, played by the excellent Ebon Moss-Bacharach. Together the two fight evil U.S. intelligent officials attempting to keep the truth from coming out. The ensemble cast is tremendous; especially Ben Barnes and Jason R. Moore as Castle’s best friends Billy Russo and Curtis Hoyle. For those who have yet to watch “The Punisher,” the tension and action through the entire 13 episodes of its initial season keeps viewers in suspense. Bernthal’s expression of his pain and angst, as well as his vulnerability due to the fact he has no superpowers, has the television audience rooting for him.

Before “Black Panther” premiered this past February, Netflix premiered “Luke Cage” in September of 2016, the first Black superhero television series. Based and filmed in Harlem, the show is authentic because the backdrop of Harlem itself is a central character of the show. It also, like the aforementioned shows, consists of a tremendous cast. Mike Colter as Luke Cage has incredible charisma and is built like a tank. Colter’s character Cage was wrongfully imprisoned and like Castle, his wife was murdered. It was his wife that as a prison doctor helped arrange Cage being a guinea pig in a prison experiment that gave him his superpowers, which include being bulletproof and superhuman strength.

The rest of the cast has major star power. Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and Emmy award winner Alfre Woodard play cousins who are phenomenal as Cage’s primary adversaries, Cottonmouth and Black Mariah. Rosario Dawson as Cage’s love interest, Nurse Claire Temple, lights up the screen as the chemistry between her and Colter is sizzling hot. Finally, Simone Missick as Detective Misty Knight is not only a Black detective, but a Black female detective who assists Cage in battling evil in Harlem. Creator Cheo Hodari Coker has created a masterpiece and assembled a cast that makes this Black superhero series one of the greatest superhero television series of all time. It is the first time that a dramatic television series with a predominantly Black cast has been given a golden opportunity to shine and prosper.

Netflix has set the standard with its Marvel lineup of superhero shows, which also include “Jessica Jones,” “Iron Fist,” and “The Defenders.” Cox, Bernthal and Colter are perfect in their roles because of the vulnerability each man portrays when faced with adversity. Each hero has had loved ones murdered and they use that grief in exacting revenge against the evil perpetrators of those murders. Despite being considered vigilantes, all three men are true heroes as they do their best to bring justice to the men and women who wronged them.

THE BLACK ATHLETE REVISITED

Today marks the fourth anniversary of my “Silva Linings Playbook” column. To celebrate this anniversary, I will revisit the state of the Black Athlete, the subject of my very first column.

Four years ago, I heavily criticized Black athletes for not speaking out on issues that affected the Black community. Today, no longer are Black athletes sitting on the sidelines just collecting a paycheck while young Black men are being targeted by the powers that be. Beginning with Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem at the start of the 2016 NFL season, Black athletes such as Michael Bennett, LeBron James, Malcolm Jenkins and Eric Reid have spoken up against racial injustice and give their support to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Not since Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War over 50 years ago has a Black athlete been both ostracized and blackballed by the media and the powers that be. The reason for his refusal to stand for the anthem was eloquently system by Kaepernick in August of 2016. Kaepernick wanted to shed light on the growing injustices against Black people in America, especially young Black men that continue to be unjustly murdered by the police. As he put it, he wanted to “use his voice to speak for the voiceless.” What followed were conservative politicians and members of the media criticizing Kaepernick non stop.

During the midst of his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump suggested that if Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem, he “should try another country.” Kaepernick’s response? “He always says make America great again. Well America has never been great for people of color. That’s something that needs to be addressed. Let’s make America great for the first time.” As we all know, Trump went on to win the presidency and since winning, he has upped his bigotry and ignorance. He ripped NBA star Stephen Curry for refusing the customary tradition of the NBA champions to visit the President at the White House. To save face, Trump rescinded his invitation to the Golden State Warriors. The fact remains, Curry and his Warriors had no intention of visiting.

Kaepernick‘s political stance has been the catalyst for several athletes, both Black and White, to speak out against racial injustice, including the biggest American sports star today, LeBron James. James has consistently used his superstar status to call Trump on the carpet for the way he attempts to divide the country and scapegoat immigrants and people of color. Laura Ingraham of The Fox News Channel, an ultra conservative and champion of everything Trump, used her show on the network to tell James to “just shut up and dribble.” New York’s sports radio station WFAN two most widely listened two shows had the host of both shows, Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa blasted Kaepernick‘s refusal to stand for the anthem. Boomer called Kaepernick’s actions “unpatriotic and a slap in the face to the men and women serving in our military.” Francesa felt that NFL teams shouldn’t sign Kaepernick because he “wasn’t worth the headache.” None of the aforementioned members of the media understand the everyday struggle of being oppressed and/or being discriminated because of the color of their skins. Yet, that is no excuse. The last two years, two of the most prominent coaches in NBA history who happen to be White, Steve Kerr and Greg Popovich, have supported political protests by athletes of color. Kerr is the coach of the Golden State Warriors and he supported not visiting the White House and Trump. He was extremely critical of Trump last fall when Trump called any NFL players who refused to stand for the anthem “sons of bitches.” Kerr’s response? “He used the words ‘sons of (expletive)’ to talk about NFL players who have made it clear they’re protesting racial inequality and police brutality,” Kerr said. “Those are sons of (expletive)? Really? You’re the President of the United States and you’re going to call them sons of (expletive)? And you’re going to call (Colin) Kaepernick out for non-violent protests, a staple of American democracy? That’s really hard to deal with.”

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a middle age White man who served in the military, is the most poignant in his comments regarding Trump and his divisiveness,”Obviously, race is the elephant in the room and we all understand that. Unless it is talked about constantly, it’s not going to get better. ‘Oh, they’re talking about that again. They pulled the race card again. Why do we have to talk about that?’ Well, because it’s uncomfortable. There has to be an uncomfortable element in the discourse for anything to change, whether it’s the LGBT movement, or women’s suffrage, race, it doesn’t matter. People have to be made to feel uncomfortable, and especially white people, because we’re comfortable. We still have no clue what being born white means. And if you read some of the recent literature, you realize there really is no such thing as whiteness. We kind of made it up. That’s not my original thought, but it’s true.” What is also true is that Trump, who’s quick to verbally assault any prominent persons of color, has never responded to the criticisms and concerns raised by Kerr and Popovich. He has always been a racist coward. Google “Trump and The Central Park Five” and see for yourself.

Since becoming a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, Kaepernick has yet to be signed by a NFL team despite the fact that he has been an all star and led a team to the Super Bowl. He is only 30 years old and considerably better than the majority of quarterbacks in the NFL. He has been unofficially blackballed. Despite the inability to ply his God given talent, Kaepernick remains steadfast and strong. He has donated over one million dollars to charities that are invested in helping the oppressed. Prominent Black athletes such as Curry, Kevin Durant and Serena Williams have donated over $10,000 each to those same charities. Last week, Kaepernick was awarded Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award, an award given to him for his public protest against social and racial injustice. Despite losing millions of dollars in endorsement and NFL deals, Kaepernick has made a monumental difference for Blacks in America. He has continued the struggle against injustice in the tradition of Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson,Muhammad ALI, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. There is no athlete I admire more in sports today. In the long run, the truth will win out.

ALL TIME NEW YORK METS TEAM: KEITH HERNANDEZ

Boys tend to follow the same teams and athletes that their fathers followed. My father was a diehard boxing and New York Mets fan. I would inherit these passions of my father. Today, a month shy of my 50th birthday, boxing and the Mets continue to be my biggest passions in life. This is the 42nd year of my Met fandom. I will celebrate this fandom by doing a bio on the Mets all time team by position. I will start with the greatest first baseman in Mets history: Keith Hernandez.

On June 15, 1983, the New York Mets acquired Hernandez from the St. Louis Cardinals in what would amount to highway robbery. The Mets gave up their erratic closer Neil Allen and an unknown minor league prospect Rick Ownbey for a gold glove first baseman and former National League Most Valuable Player. When the trade occurred, my father surmised that something was up. There was no way in the world that the Mets could get a star of Hernandez’s magnitude without something fishy going on. My father was right, as two years later, it was revealed that Hernandez was not only having issues with Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, he was also dealing with an addiction to cocaine.

Hernandez overcame his cocaine addiction and became the leader of a Mets team that had been a terrible losing team for seven years. Beginning in 1984, the Mets would go on to seven consecutive seasons of playing winning baseball. In that period, twice they finished first in the National League East and second five times. In 1984, Hernandez batted .311 with 15 home runs and 94 RBI’s, resulting in Hernandez finishing second in the NL MVP voting. He also won the seventh of a still record eleven gold gloves for a first baseman.

Hernandez continued his great fielding and hitting in 1985. He batted .309 with 10 home runs and 91 RBI’s. He also was given additional help on offense with the acquisition of superstar catcher Gary Carter and the maturation of outfield slugger Darryl Strawberry. Mets pitching ace Doc Gooden had one of the most incredible years ever for a pitcher. All of this resulted in the Mets wining 98 games but falling short to the division winning Cardinals. Going into 1986, my father and I knew it would be the year of the Mets. It would be the greatest season in the history of our beloved franchise.

A great player is nothing but consistent. In 1986, Hernandez batted .310 with 13 home runs and 83 RBI’s while again playing stellar defense at first base. Hernandez was complemented offensively by great seasons from Carter and Strawberry. The Mets also had an incredible pitching staff with four pitchers winning 15 or more games. The Mets would go on to win 108 games and the National League East by an astronomical 21 1/2 games. The Mets would win an epic NLCS over the Houston Astros and a legendary World Series over the Boston Red Sox to win their second championship. My father and I thought this would be the beginning of a Mets dynasty. It’s still the last time the Mets won it all.

The Mets fell short the following season because of several injuries and the 60 day suspension Gooden received for cocaine use. Hernandez had another solid season, batting .290 with 18 home runs and 89 RBI’s. Despite Hernandez only playing in 95 games because of nagging injuries, the Mets, on the strength of their incredible pitching staff and a breakout year by Strawberry, won 100 games and the National League East. Unfortunately, the Mets would be defeated in seven games by the Los Angeles Dodgers. This series loss was even more painful as during the regular season, the Mets had beaten the Dodgers in 10 out of the 11 games they played him. Injuries forced Hernandez to miss even more games in 1989. He batted a paltry .233 and for the first time since 1977 did not win a gold glove. The Mets didn’t offer Hernandez a new contract as he was a free agent after the conclusion of the 1989 season. After another injury plague 1990 season with the Cleveland Indians, Hernandez announced his retirement.

Hernandez brought a professionalism and stardom that the Mets were in desperate need of during their dark days of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Along with Gary Carter, Hernandez led and mentored young Mets such as Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Lenny Dykstra and Howard Johnson during the greatest era in Mets history. Today, Hernandez is part of the best broadcasting team in sports today. Alongside Gary Cohen and former teammate Ron Darling, this trio gives you the most unbiased and informative analysis in baseball today. Just like he did in his days as captain of the Mets, Hernandez serves as a calm voice of reason in the broadcast booth. A leader both on and off the field.

GREATEST ICONIC FIGURES IN SITCOM HISTORY


Throughout the history of television, there have been many legendary comedic legends that starred on groundbreaking sitcoms. Such legends included Lucille Ball on “I Love Lucy”: Andy Griffith on “The Andy Griffith Show”: Dick Van Dyke on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”: Freddie Prinze on “Chico and The Man”: Bill Cosby on “The Cosby Show”: Jerry Seinfeld on “Seinfeld.” As great as these actors were in portraying their characters on their shows, there were three actors who’s portrayal of their characters trumps the aforementioned ones. I will explain why Jackie Gleason, Carroll O’Connor and Redd Foxx and the characters they played stand alone as the three greatest iconic comedic figures in television history.

One of the early superstars doing the infancy of television was Jackie Gleason. In the early 1950’s, Gleason hosted a highly rated variety show named after himself on CBS. “The Jackie Gleason Show” centered on Gleason and his cast of actors in multiple comedy skits. The most popular of these skits were centered around a Brooklyn bus driver, played by Gleason, and his interactions with his wife and best friend. In the fall of 1955, that popular skit became a stand alone, weekly sitcom. “The Honeymooners” premiered on October 1, 1955. It set the standard for a comedic leading man.

Gleason played Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden. Kramden was a bombastic, overbearing man who always got involved with his best friend and neighbor Ed Norton in one hair brained scheme after another. On several occasions, Kramden and Norton would attempt get rich money schemes. Each time, they would fail. Kramden would explode in anger towards Norton and then have to explain to his wife how he blew the little money they had on one bad investment after another. Art Carney as Ed Norton and Audrey Meadows as Ralph’s wife Alice perfectly complimented Gleason’s Kramden in their interplay with him. Carney as the bumbling Norton was a naïve man with good intentions. Meadows as Alice was a woman who time and time again would be disappointed by Ralph, yet their love was so strong that she always forgave him. Almost every episode ended with Ralph apologizing to Alice for letting her down and her lovingly forgiving him. Although the show only lasted 39 episodes because of Gleason’s extremely busy schedule, the show set a standard with the comedic timing between Carney and Gleason. Gleason’s Kramden was the overbearing comedic lead that became a staple of sitcoms to this day. Ralph Kramden was such an iconic figure that in 2000, a statue of Kramden was unveiled outside New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal in Times Square.

When speaking of overbearing comedic leads, Carroll O’Connor’s iconic Archie Bunker was the most overbearing of them all. “All in the Family” was the very first sitcom to tackle sensitive social issues with O’Connor portraying a racist, sexist and insensitive Queens cabdriver. A sitcom based around a racist, ignorant middle aged man sounded like a recipe for disaster. The reason it became a legendary show was the way O’Connor portrayed Bunker. O’Connor brought to life just how ignorant Bunker was in the way he delivered his racist views. Whether it was calling Blacks “colored” or his liberal Polish-American son-in-law a “Polack,” the viewers saw just how incredibly stupid Archie Bunker really was. Also, his character being the way he was would shed a light politically on such issues as racism, the Vietnam War, segregation and immigration. No television show had ever broached such subject matter. The biggest irony of O’Connor’s portrayal of Archie Bunker was the fact that in real life, O’Connor was a liberal Democrat, the exact opposite of Bunker’s conservative Republican. O’Connor knew that by playing Bunker the way he did, issues that he needed addressed would be addressed in front of millions of people each week.

“All in the Family” premiered on CBS January 12, 1971. It ran for nine seasons before being renamed “Archie Bunker’s Place” and ran another four seasons. In the 13 seasons that the character Archie Bunker was on television, viewers saw his character evolve from a racist, ignorant bigot to a man who began to see the errors of his way. He stopped ordering his doting wife, played by the incredible Jean Stapleton, Edith around like she was his slave. He began to respect his son-in-law Mike, played with intense passion by future legendary director Rob Reiner, and his political views. He adopted his Jewish niece, became business partners with a Jewish man, and defended his Black maid against a group of racists. Throughout the 1970’s, the only other character in a network sitcom that was on that level was the single, greatest African-American character of all time: Redd Foxx’s Fred Sanford.

Redd Foxx was a legendary comedian who many felt would be too raw for television. He was one of the innovators of raunchy, sexually explicit comedy. Norman Lear, the creator of “All in the Family,” wanted a Black version of Archie Bunker and felt Foxx was the perfect actor to bring such a character to the screen. Redd Foxx real name was John Sanford and as a tribute to his deceased brother had his character on “Sanford and Son” Fred Sanford named after him. Fred Sanford, like Ralph Kramden and Archie Bunker, was an overbearing man who constantly yelled and insulted his friends and family. Like Bunker, he harbored prejudicial views about other ethnicities. Fred Sanford was also similar to Ralph Kramden when it came to getting involved in get rich quick schemes. These schemes would be in concert with his bumbling friends Grady and/or Bubba. Sanford owned a junkyard outside his house in South Central Los Angeles that he ran with his son Lamont. Lamont, played by Demond Wilson, was a kind man who more often than not had to bail his father out of trouble. Like Ralph Kramden’s wife Alice or Archie Bunker’s wife Edith, Lamont was the one person who was able to calm his volatile father down with love and reasoning. Foxx was the first actor in a sitcom to ad-lib many of his lines. The reason he did this so often was because most of the writing staff were Jewish writers who had no concept of Black life in South Central Los Angeles. Eventually, he was able to bring in legendary comedians Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney to write for the show. “Sanford and Son“ debuted on January 14, 1972, and was NBC’s biggest hit until Foxx left the show in 1977.

Like Bunker with his son-in-law Mike, Sanford had a comedic foil who he was always at odds with in his sister-in-law played by Lawanda Paige, Aunt Esther. Sanford called her several derrogatory names such as “Barricuda” and “Ugly Gorilla.” One of the single, funniest moments on the show occurred with an ad-lib out of nowhere. In the very last scene of the episode entitled “There Will Be Some Change Made,” Foxx swiped Paige’s wig off her head and ran off the set. Paige was visibly upset as she took chase after the mischievous Foxx. As soon as the wig came off, Wilson began laughing uncontrollably. Years later, Paige was asked if she felt insulted and violated by Foxx’s spontaneity in that scene. She started crying. Not because she was offended, she was crying because of the deep love she had for Foxx.

There were many similarities shared by Gleason, O’Connor, and Foxx. All three were in their late 40’s when they began their iconic runs. All three played overbearing, cantankerous characters who became beloved by television audiences because of the vulnerability shown by each actor in their characters. All three, despite their angry demeanors, loved their wives unconditionally(Sanford’s wife died when their son Lamont was a young boy. Whenever Sanford needed to get out of a lie he told Lamont, he’d feint a heart attack and say his most famous line “Elizabeth, I’m coming to join you!”). In the over 70 years of network television, no other sitcom characters come close to the impact that these actors portrayed.

GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION PART 4: “THE ANTIHERO”

With the advent of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu and the tens of cable networks in the 21st century, never before has the American television viewer have had so many viable options to watch. Because of this increased competition for the American viewer, it has forced each avenue that produces television series to up their game. The result has been a new Golden Age of Television. Once again I will focus on three more series that have aired within the last 10 years that are indicative to this golden era we live in. These three shows all have in common lead characters who are antiheroes.

According to Webster Dictionary, the definition of an antihero is: a main character in a book, play, movie, etc., who does not have the usual good qualities that are expected in a hero. Antiheroes have long been a staple of daytime soap operas. The most popular, iconic figures on daytime television have been antiheroes. Characters such as Todd Manning, John Black, Sonny Corinthos and Luke Spencer being four of the most famous of the soap opera genre. The first iconic antihero to be portrayed on primetime television was James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano when “The Sopranos” debuted on HBO in 1999. In my opinion, the single greatest antihero in television history was Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of high school chemistry teacher turned drug lord Walter White on AMC’s landmark series “Breaking Bad.” The show premiered almost exactly 10 years ago and had an incredible five year run. I didn’t watch a single episode of “Breaking Bad” until last year. When I began watching, I couldn’t stop. Cranston’s portrayal of White in his rise from a nerdy high school teacher to a murderous and manipulative drug lord was breathtaking. You find yourself rooting for White because even though he’s dealing in mass quantities of crystal meth, the crack cocaine of the 21st century, you understand his reason for his involvement with this illegal venture. White has stage four throat cancer, and he’s trying to make as much money as possible before he dies in order for his family to be financially set for life after he dies. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out another iconic antihero from the show: White’s former student Jesse Pinkman, portrayed by Aaron Paul. Jesse’s drug addiction and abandonment issues has you rooting for this young man to overcome his problems, despite the fact that both he and White are both making and distributing the most dangerous and addictive illegal substance since crack cocaine. When you also factor in the unscrupulous characters they have to deal with in distributing crystal meth and the father-son bond the two develop through their partnership, you find yourself heavily invested in their quest to obtain their goals.

Before the introduction of crystal method, the most lethal illegal substance that was the most destructive was crack cocaine. How crack cocaine was introduced into American society is the main plot line of John Singleton’s “Snowfall” that premiered last July on FX. Singleton grew up in South Central Los Angeles where he saw through his own eyes the devastation that occurred from the drug being flooded into the area. “Snowfall” has an ensemble cast that looks at the advent of crack from three angles: the CIA, the drug cartels and a young 19 year old African American male portrayed by British actor Damson Idris. Idris plays Franklin Saint, a college dropout who accidentally comes across cocaine through hanging out with his rich White friend who introduces him to a South American drug lord. Then, on a journey to Oakland, Franklin is taught how to turn cocaine into crack, and Franklin, with the help of his aunt and uncle, begins to see not only how potent the new drug is, but how quickly it sells on the street. Franklin is motivated in dealing drugs because he wants to get his mother out of South Central. You find yourself rooting for Franklin, another antihero, because he’s a very intelligent young man who adores his mother, despite the fact that you know in hindsight the incredible destruction that crack cocaine caused the inner cities throughout the United States. Like White and Pinkman, Franklin has to outwit and outmaneuver several unscrupulous and immoral individuals who are trying to kill him.

The single, most fascinating antihero in cinematic recently had a classic series based on his exploits as a Baltimore forensic psychiatrist. “Hannibal” the series ran on NBC for three seasons between 2013 and 2015. The show centered around Dr. Hannibal Lecter and his relationship with the FBI Behavioral Sciences, headed by Jack Crawford. Crawford’s star profiler is Will Graham, an instructor of FBI agents and a man who can recreate a crime scene by looking at the scene and visualize exactly how the murder was committed. Graham is portrayed with an amazing vulnerability by Hugh Dancy. Graham is mentally scarred by his unique gift to get inside a killer’s mind. It takes an incredible psychological toll on him, and because he’s psychologically affected by this, his boss Crawford, powerfully portrayed by the legendary Laurence Fishburne, orders him to see Dr. Lecter for a psychiatric evaluation. Lecter, whose iconic character is portrayed by the marvelous and charismatic Mads Mikkelsen, uses this as an opportunity to gain the trust of both Crawford and Graham. Lecter helps Crawford and Graham solve several crimes involving serial killers because, unbeknownst to them, Lecter is one as well. Lecter, through his sessions with Graham, begins to psychologically torment and torture him. Lecter is a psychopath, but like Anthony Hopkins before him, Mikkelsen plays him with such charisma and smoothness that the audience can’t help but hope that Lecter will see the error of his way. Lecter is the ultimate psychopath, so there is no hope for him. I highly recommend that readers of this column who’ve never seen this series go find it as it’s the perfect prequel for the Hannibal Lecter series of movies starring Hopkins.

In my opinion, the most fascinating characters on television and in movies have always been the antihero. Characters who are heavily flawed who through mostly shady and illegal methods gain money, wealth, revenge and\or justice. All three shows have as their protagonist classic and legendary antiheroes. Never before in the history of network television has their been so many antiheroes portrayed on television. As I continue to cover this Golden Age of Television, many more will be focused on.

THE FINAL ESSENTIAL ALBUM OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “AGE AIN’T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER”

DISCLAIMER: I want it to be known that I truly believe that R Kelly is a pedophile and sexual predator. The recent allegations that he is harboring a cult of young females as his sex slaves is another in a long line of sexual deviant behavior that he’s been accused of in the past 23 years. I no longer support him as a musician or individual. That being said, he was an integral part of the last two years of the New Jack Swing Era, and I’d be doing that era a disservice if I didn’t include the two classic albums he oversaw despite his sordid past and present. More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “DIARY OF A MAD BAND”

In my opinion, the single, greatest group of the New Jack Swing Era was Jodeci. With their two headed monster as lead singers, K-Ci and JoJo, combined with their band mate DeVante Swing’s incredible songwriting and producing, Jodeci continued their prolific run with the release of their second album. Released on December 21, 1993, “Diary of a Mad Band” is considered by many experts to be the group’s singular, greatest album. While I prefer their debut album, “Diary of a Mad Band” does contain my two favorite songs ever recorded by Jodeci. I covered their rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” in my article about “Uptown MV Unplugged.” I will begin this article talking about what I feel is the greatest song they ever recorded: “Cry for You.” More

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “12 PLAY”

DISCLAIMER: I want it to be known that I truly believe that R Kelly is a pedophile and sexual predator. The recent allegations that he is harboring a cult of young females as his sex slaves is another in a long line of sexual deviant behavior that he’s been accused of in the past 23 years. I no longer support him as a musician or individual. That being said, he was an integral part of the last two years of the New Jack Swing Era, and I’d be doing that era a disservice if I didn’t include the two classic albums he oversaw despite his sordid past and present.

R Kelly first caught my attention during the summer of 1992. While riding with my parents in their car, I heard the song “Honey Love.” I assumed it was Guy’s new single as the lead singer sounded just like Aaron Hall. To my surprise, it wasn’t guy but a new group called R Kelly and Public Announcement. They had just released their debut album “Born Into the 90’s.” At the time, they felt like a cheap imitation of Aaron Hall and Guy. Kelly even had the same look as Hall by wearing sunglasses and sporting a bald head. Kelly would leave the group and a year later release his debut album “12 Play.” This album was the greatest sex oriented album in 20 years since Marvin Gaye’s iconic “Let’s Get it On” album. It would also begin Kelly’s reign as the premier R&B male vocalist for the next two decades plus.

“12 Play” continued in the New Jack Swing Era’s style of having gospel style singing. While nowhere spiritual or religious in content, R Kelly’s vocal style is taken straight from a Baptist church. Kelly’s vocal range was far stronger than Hall’s. Hall was a classic baritone who rarely sang as a tenor or falsetto. On “12 Play,” Kelly showcases his incredible vocal range. On the uptempo hits “Bump n’ Grind” and “Sex Me,” Kelly sounds exactly like a Hall ripoff, as he sings in a predominantly baritone voice. “Bump n’ Grind” was an incredible hit, going to number one on both the Billboard Pop and R&B charts. Both these songs were the initial singles off the album. They were the perfect appetizers to the sensual love songs that were next to be released. These songs would be some of the greatest sensual ballads ever released. It would also begin the separation between Kelly and the rest of the R&B male solo singers of that era.

The first ballad released was “Seems Like You’re Ready,” a sensuous ballad about a man feeling that he and his girlfriend are ready to consummate their relationship. He shifts vocally from tenor to baritone, and the lyrics, while overt, are cleverly written and sung by Kelly, “I can smell your perfume. Step into my bedroom. Let me love you constantly. Oh, oh, your body is my playground. Let me lick you up and down. Make you feel like a woman should.” As I stated earlier, the ballads of this album are so reminiscent of Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” The similarities between Gaye and Kelly are eery. Both had incredible vocal range. Both were incredible songwriters. Both men had a fetish for younger women.

The next release off the album was another sensuous ballad, “Your Body’s Callin.” Another ballad that highlights Kelly’s vocal range. The song is about Kelly surmising that his woman is hungry for him: “I hear you callin’, Here I come baby, to save you, oh oh, baby no more stalling. These hands have been longing to touch you baby. And now that you’ve come around, to seeing it my way
You won’t regret it baby, and you surely won’t forget it baby. It’s unbelievable how your body’s calling for me. I can just hear it callin’, callin’ for me.” Both ballads were two of the greatest love songs of the entire 1990’s. It also began a trend of the best songs on his albums being the sensual ballads.

“12 Play” went on to sell over six million albums. It began Kelly’s domination of R&B, as he’s been the most prolific R&B male singers of the last 25 years. While I initially felt that Johnny Gill would be that artist, Kelly surpassed him and every other artist of that era. Kelly would be that last great writer and producer of the New Jack Swing Era. We will revisit his writing and producing acumen in an upcoming article.

TRACKLIST- 12 PLAY

1 Your Body’s Callin’ 4:37
2 Bump N’ Grind 4:15
3 Homie, Lover, Friend 4:22
4 It Seems Like You’re Ready 4:38
5 Freak Dat Body 3:43
6 I Like the Crotch on You 6:37
7 Summer Bunnies 4:14
8 For You 5:01
9 Back to the Hood of Things 3:52
10 Sadie 4:30
11 Sex Me, Pts. 1-2 11:27
12 12 Play 5:54

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS OF THE NEW JACK SWING ERA: “I’M READY”

In the fall of 1993, New Jack Swing was still the dominant style of music in R&B. 1993 would be the last year that New Jack Swing would dominate the soul music landscape. In the fall of 1993, several classic New Jack Swing albums were released. The first we will focus on is Tevin Campbell’s “I’m Ready.” More